Are We Sacramentalists? The Creation

t_upper-yosemite-falls-yosemite-national-park-california.jpgIn a previous post, we considered the verses that teach that God acts on us, through his Spirit, as we study the Bible. This makes Bible study — or listening to the word taught or preached — sacramental, as a human activity results in God’s activity in a real and immediate way right here on Planet Earth.

But the promise Paul speaks of in 1 Cor 2 is deeper and wider than Bible study. The Spirit helps us “understand what God has freely given us.” Well, God has given us more than the Bible. He has, for example, given us the Creation itself.

We’re taught,

(Rom 1:20) For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

(Psa 19:1) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

God speaks to us not only through his word, but through his Creation. And God helps us know him better as we view his handiwork. And we instinctively recognize this.

I mean, ask a hunter or fisherman why he enjoys his sport, and many will speak of how nature speaks to them of God. Being in the wild naturally brings our hearts and minds toward God. We can’t help but see him in natural beauty.

Therefore, merely gazing at God’s creation can be a sacrament. As we reflect on this bit of God’s glory, which is all of God we can bear to see, the Spirit helps us understand that this is from God and that the Creator is far more glorious than the creation.

I well remember visiting Yosemite National Park 25 years ago and being utterly drawn toward God — seeing the unspeakable beauty he’d made for our enjoyment.

And we’re moved to poetry, because if words were good enough, we wouldn’t need the Spirit to help us —

(Isa 40:21-31) Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. …

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. …

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And if the Creation speaks to us of God, obviously enough, we have a certain responsibility toward it.

The place to look for a theology of the environment is Genesis. After all, the whole story of the Bible is about our being drawn back toward Eden by God —

(Gen 2:4b-5a, 15, 16) When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens 5 … there was no man to work the ground … . 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden … .”

Even before the Garden was cursed with weeds, man was charged with working the Garden and taking care of it.

The Hebrew word translated “take care of it” is shamar, and it means

1. to be on one’s guard, take heed, take care, beware
2. to keep oneself, refrain, abstain
3. to be kept, be guarded

Here is one duty of man with regard to the Creation. The scriptures also say the man is to “work” the ground. The Hebrew word is ‘abad, meaning,

1. to be worked, be tilled (of land)
2. to make oneself a servant

Clearly, the man’s job is both to protect the Creation and to work the Creation to be fruitful.

We err when we worship the Creation rather than the Creator. We are not charged to preserve the Creation solely for the sake of preservation. Rather, the Creation is to be preserve for the benefit of man.

On the other hand, neither are we permitted to despoil the Creation so that it can no longer be enjoyed! Nor can we destroy its fruitfulness. We are seriously charged with its protection and preservation.

These are very, very broad statements, which hardly answer all the environmental issues we face today. I mean, should we preserve and protect ANWR oil field in Alaska? Or work the ground and make it fruitful?

But this much is clear:

* All Christians should be environmentalists. That hardly means agreeing with every position of the environmental lobby, but it does mean caring deeply about the planet we’ve received from God as a gift and which speaks to us of our shared Creator.

* The immediate needs of the capitalists are not always going to be the paramount needs. It’s both preserve the Garden and work the Garden. Not one or the other. If we preserve too severely, we’ll starve fellow human beings, and the Garden was made for the support of the man — after the man was created — not the other way around (Gen 2:5). But if we work the Garden too severely, we’ll fail in our mission of preservation and might still starve fellow human beings. We need this planet to last a long, long time.

* Moreover, the Psalms especially repeatedly speak of the Creation showing forth the glory of God. Destroying the beauty of the Earth destroys its testimony about God. Again, the rule isn’t absolute, as every farm replaces one kind of beauty with another. And we were plainly meant to farm the land.

* Science is a subset of theology. There can be no contradiction. Modern physics, biology, and whatever true science there is will speak to us about God and cannot contradict God’s truth. Indeed, in this view, if a scientist studies the Creation as a Christian, his work becomes (you guessed it) sacramental, as the Spirit will give him understanding of God from studying his gift to us.

* Therefore, our Christian colleges and universities should be on the leading edge of scientific instruction and research, although they are often sadly out of touch with God’s Creation. It’s as though we’re afraid of what we might learn about our God! That’s not faith.

(Psa 104:24-32) How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number– living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.

27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.

29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works– 32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.

Consider verses 30 and 31. V. 31 says that God’s work of creating is not over, but rather he continually renews the face of the earth. Indeed, the entire Psalm extols God’s continuing work in maintaining the Earth. Thus, as we do the same, we are truly doing God’s work. He walk with him as we help to heal the planet and bring it closer to Eden.

And this causes God to rejoice (v 31) as the earth becomes new once again. I’m not sure that’s a sacrament, but it’s a very, very good thing.

Now ponder this one: why is this hardly ever preached?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Sacramentalism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Are We Sacramentalists? The Creation

  1. Nick Gill says:

    Wendell Berry has written some excellent essays on this subject. What springs to mind offhand are two collections of essays: "The Gift of Good Land" and "The Art of the Common Place."

    You can probably find the essay "The Gift of Good Land" published online. I remember that he also points to several passages from Deuteronomy to establish a theological ground for preserving (and I would say working to restore) God's gift.

Leave a Reply